Live at the Apollo: UN chief urges Democracy Prep grads to help shape ‘new future’

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered the keynote address at first graduation ceremony of Democracy Prep Public School at Apollo Theater in Harlem. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

24 June 2013 – Hailing the first-ever graduating class of Democracy Prep High School, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged the young scholars to “change the world” through global citizenship, and to help the United Nations respond as “one human family” to major international challenges.

“This is your moment,” the Secretary-General said in a rousing commencement address as the first graduating class of Democracy Prep High walked across the stage at the legendary Apollo Theater in historic Harlem, New York City, to receive their diplomas.

Democracy Prep Public Schools are a network of six open-enrolment, high performing, public charter schools, serving some 1,600 students in Harlem. The School’s stated mission is to educate “responsible citizen-scholars for success in the college of their choice and a life of active citizenship.”

“Congratulations on the first graduation of this remarkable school!” said Mr. Ban, adding:

“You rose to every challenge. You showed that you appreciate tough demands. And you are ready to reach for the stars.”

Telling the graduates that he had always dreamed of appearing live at the Apollo but the problem was that he could not sing, Mr. Ban still managed to kick off his commencement speech with a song – showing a music video by Beyoncé, entitled I was Here.

He said that when the video was taped, the pop superstar asked him about the work of the United Nations and he had explained that the Organization feeds about a hundred million hungry people around the world each day; it works to save the lives of millions of children with vaccines and basic health care.

“We provide shelter to refugees – and schools for refugee children who have been forced to flee fighting in Syria and other troubled parts of the world,” he continued, adding that: “Our peacekeepers destroy weapons and train ex-soldiers for new jobs that contribute to society.”

When there is an earthquake, a tsunami or a flood, the United Nations rushes in with food, medicine and hope. The Secretary-General said that the world body also negotiates and mediates to prevent wars and establish peace.

The United Nations needs all kinds of people: politicians, diplomats, lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, police and more, he said, declaring: “I am here to say: we need you!”

“We need you to think beyond the borders of the United States. We need you be global citizens. Climate change, poverty and violence affect all countries. We have to respond as one human family,” he said.

The Secretary-General noted that every single one of the graduates was going to college. That is why he referred to them as the “class of twenty-seventeen.”

He urged them to take the strength inside them and challenge every problem. “Then look for a harder problem – one that affects more people. Reach inside yourself and fulfil the promise of your school to change the world,” he said.

The UN chief said that Democracy Prep “is very close to my heart” because it proved his belief that education transforms the world. In that spirit, he had launched the Global Education First initiative, with the aim of getting some 57 million out-of-school children back in school by the year 2015.

“We want to raise more leaders like you – people who will shape a new future. You are my inspiration. Keep changing our world,” the Secretary-General said in closing.


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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at Democracy Prep School's graduation ceremony

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